The Scifi Obsession Of Dungeons and Dragons Creator Gary Gygax

Illustration for article titled The Scifi Obsession Of Dungeons and Dragons Creator Gary Gygax

Gary Gygax, co-inventor of Dungeons and Dragons, will probably be best remembered as the man who brought role playing games into the lives of millions of teenagers in the 1970s, and who helped spawn an entire industry. If you've ever rolled an eight-sided dice in a game, it's thanks to him. While his bread and butter was swords and sworcery, he was also an avid science fiction fan (he even designed a scifi D&D module, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, whose artwork is pictured here). He worked on several scifi games, as well as writing several science fiction stories. With the sad news today that Gary passed away in his home, we take a long, triviatastic look at his love for gaming and science fiction.

Illustration for article titled The Scifi Obsession Of Dungeons and Dragons Creator Gary Gygax
  • Gygax spent his formative years reading science fiction authors Ray Bradbury, Jack Vance, L. Sprague de Camp and Fritz Leiber as well as the fantasy world of Conan the Barbarian via Robert E. Howard's books.
  • In 1953 Gygax first played Gettysburg by Avalon Hill, and later ended up ordering blank hexagonal mapping paper from the same company.
  • In 1966 he founded the International Federation of Wargamers with friends, and in 1967 he organized a 20 person gaming get-together in his basement that was later billed as Gen Con 0. Gen Con is now the world's largest hobby-gaming convention.
  • He founded the Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association, which was a military miniatures society. This guy sure loved his Associations, Federations, and groups.
  • In 1971, he and Jeff Perren wrote Chainmail, a medieval miniatures game, which later featured a supplementary set of rules featuring magic spells and other fantasy elements.
  • After playing Gettysburg, he became obsessed with finding ways to generate random numbers rather than using traditional six-sided dice. He found a set of the five platonic solids in the back of a school supply catalog and ordered several sets, and later introduced them into gaming in D&D. In fact, owning your own dice and keeping them in a little velvet bag was a sign of geek coolness, back then.
  • In 1974 he formed Tactical Studies Rules with Don Kaye and released the first set of Dungeons and Dragons rules, and their first run of 1,000 hand-printed editions sold out in nine months, and were later passed around college and high school campuses across the nation.
  • In 1976, TSR introduced the game Metamorphosis Alpha, which later became Gamma World. The game was inspired by Brian Aldiss' novel Starship, and later crossed over into the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons world with the "Expedition to the Barrier Peaks" module. Gygax said the module was meant to show what would happen if a ship like one in Metamorphosis Alpha crashed into a D&D world.
  • In 1982 TSR followed the scifi vein with Star Frontiers, which featured swashbuckling space adventure through the unexplored worlds of the Frontier. This was actually my first introduction to role-playing games, and I have to admit that I loved this game a lot more than D&D. In fact, I'm tempted to dig through trunks to see if I still have the rulebook.
  • Gygax left TSR in 1984 during changes to management, and began working on the Dungeons & Dragons Saturday morning cartoon show.
  • In 1987 Gygax developed Cyborg Commando, a science fiction roleplaying game "set in 2035 at a time when the earth is invaded by aliens called Xenoborgs intent on subduing humanity and taking control of the planet. Luckily humanity has developed a new kind of solider: the Cyborg Commando, a mechanical/electronical man-like structure that can be implanted with a willing human's brain." Unfortunately it was later criticized as "the worst role-playing game ever written."
  • In 1999 he introduced Lejendary Adventure, which was meant to be a return to less-complicated gameplay with an emphasis on fun, although it explored the familiar gaming territory already well-covered by D&D. One of the last projects he had been working on was an expansion module for Lejendary called "Lejendary AsteRogues", as sort of "fantastical science RPG." According to Gygax, "The Lejendary AsteRogues game is actually in the "Fantastical Science" area, not true SF. It is a sort of mix of steampunk and super science with a leavening of Napoleonic Era military material." Sounds pretty scifi to us.
  • He wrote two science fiction short stories, "Pay Tribute" and "The Battle Off Deadstar," which were published in the scifi anthology The Fleet and Breakthrough (The Fleet, Book 3).
  • He has a strain of bacteria named after him: "Arthronema gygaxiana sp nov UTCC393." We hope it's not flesh-eating.
  • In 2000 he appeared as himself on an episode ofFuturama along with Al Gore, Nichelle Nichols, and Stephen Hawking. He rolls the dice to determine which greeting to give to Fry.
Illustration for article titled The Scifi Obsession Of Dungeons and Dragons Creator Gary Gygax

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Annalee Newitz

Thank you, Gary, for helping me and my friends survive junior high school. All those random monsters we rolled protected us, and all those games taught us to save money, to plan for the future, to navigate, to flirt, and to always keep an extra dagger in our boots. AD&D first edition is emblazoned on my soul.